Two Poems

Nguyễn Quốc Chánh

Elsewhere I don't know, but here must be different

Here in Phan Thiet
It's 7 o'clock.
The red sun flares.

Right now calm seas
Right now sea full of algae.
Right now not so many swimmers.
Just a few people lying about, sitting meditating.

A man, rag-tag, legless, plays the superhuman
Spinning round and round on his veined pole.
(He looks like he's survived from centuries ago
Not unlike those invalids of a million shipwrecks.)

Elsewhere the sea is salty, at times bitter, but here the sea is sublime with                                                                       the scent of fermented fish.

The history of the sea is inevitable, everywhere war, but here the sea is                                                                       completely different.

Elsewhere the sea dreams of uniting all at once her islands to her aging                                                                       continents.

But here the sea dreams eternally of bottled fish sauce.

That's why here, all over the place, all the time, it smells funky.

Contemporary People

(To the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa Islands)

I have no people. Though I have a few thousand square meters of land. I have no people. Because land alone is not enough to be called a people. There's only prospect for joint-venture profits, power, and influence. I have no people. Because we have been poisoned to the core. Communists dig up the roots. They chew up people with their fixed ideas of class and such. Raised for meat. Caged for meat. All for the right to meat. I have no people. A girl cries for Hoang Sa and Truong Sa lost. I listen touched. Each loss can bring tears to your eyes. Sooner or later more will cry. Because one of the two islands still left will also be lost. Whoever wants to reclaim them will just get more writhing, despairing, and crying. My ancestors were also familiar with barbarity and occupation. And still they proudly drew swords to conquer the country. Ours and theirs. The Cham people and the Mien. I have no people. Lost over 30 years ago. My friends: Huong, Linh, Lan,... also have no people. Lost too over 30 years ago. They are still alive but have no people. If a person has no people but still lives, I'm worthy of a person, for over 30 years now I have had no people. If loss can be measured by tears, then I don't have enough to cry.

translated from the Vietnamese by Hai-Dang Phan

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